When does a goat roll on four wheels and an old Ford chassis? When it’s a Colombian chiva!
Since publishing our April news post, we’ve gotten lots of comments and questions about the vehicle in the highlight photo:
This colorful contraption is known as a chiva (Spanish for female goat), so named because of its ability to take on even the most treacherous Colombian mountain roads. In the rural towns, chivas are just about as common as arepas (the corn tortilla-like disks that are served with every meal). Chivas provide rustic but important and low-cost transportation for the people, their livestock, and just about any other goods you can imagine. They’re Colombia’s answer to “chicken buses.”
We spotted the above chiva in San Carlos, a small town about two hours’ drive west of Medellín. (Just before the pandemic hit last year, we made a very cool road trip to San Rafael and San Carlos – our last before the nationwide lockdown). As we watched, the guys kept putting more and more stuff on top: bags of produce, big stems of plantains, propane tanks, furniture, luggage, and bags and bags of who knows what else.
The typical chiva is brightly painted, dominated by the colors of the Colombian flag (red, blue, and yellow) and plenty of religious imagery or some type of reference to the local scenery. In some towns, they’re called escaleras (ladders) because of the ladders used to stow items on the top of the vehicle. Chivas are such icons that party versions have shown up in locales as far-flung as New York, where passengers are treated to live bands, bar service, and stops at Colombian restaurants and night clubs. But that version of a chiva is just about as foreign to rural Colombians as the two gringos walking around, gawking and taking photos!
Here are a few of our favorite chiva spottings (photos in a gallery – just click through to see each one).
A beautiful chiva in Jardin, one of our favorite heritage towns in Antioquia.
Closer to home – a local chiva in our hometown of El Retiro
Could not agree more – our town really is the “Eden of Eastern Antioquia.”
Taking on a load at the main parque in El Retiro
Another chiva in San Carlos. Most of the chivas we’ve seen are built on old Ford truck chassis.
Love the detail on the back of this one – especially the photos of the kids and grandkids.
Jeepaos and Tuk Tuks
For rugged, rural transportation, 4×4 Jeepaos are almost as revered as chivas. Typically a Willys Jeep or Toyota Land Cruiser, the jeepao is a vital link between the rural towns and the country folk who live in the remote fincas. (The Willys has an interesting history – did you know it was one of the original army jeeps?)
Tuk-tuks are another common means of transportation that you’ll spot in just about every town in Colombia (and South America, for that matter). These three-wheelers are amazingly versatile, fun, and inexpensive to ride.
Chivas and Jeepaos in Folk Art
The Colombians revere their chivas and jeepaos, and you’ll see images of them just about everywhere.
Have you taken some interesting local transportation in your travels? Tell us about it!
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